Guide to Cat Breeds (See Full List)

Maine Coon

Maine Coon

Ancestry: Longhaired domestic cats
Place of Origin: New England, USA
Date of Origin: Unknown; have been around for centuries
Accepted by: All North American cat associations (championship)

 
Description

Known as the gentle giant of the cat fancy, the Maine Coon is a large, easygoing, affectionate cat. Despite rumors of 30 or even 40-pound Maine Coons, adult males weigh 13 to 18 pounds and adult females weigh 9 to 13 pounds, although exceptions exist. Since the standard favors the male, allowance is made for size differences between males and females. Quality and type is never sacrificed for mere size. However, the Maine Coon is still one of the largest domestic cat breeds. It’s fortunate the breed is good-natured!

The Maine Coon has a muscular, broad-chested, long body, with all parts in proportion to create a well-balanced rectangular appearance; no part of the anatomy is so exaggerated as to foster weakness. Overall balance and proportion are essential to the breed, and no feature should dominate attention over any other. The body feels solid, with firm muscle and no flabbiness. Since the Maine Coon is the result of adaptation to harsh conditions, it's not surprising that the breed is muscular with substantial, wide-set, medium length legs and large, well-tufted paws suitable for walking on snow. The forelegs are straight; the back legs are straight when viewed from behind. The tail is long, wide at the base, and tapering. The tail fur is long and flowing.

The head is medium in width, slightly longer than wide, with high cheekbones. The muzzle is visibly square, medium in length, and blunt-ended when viewed in profile. Length and width of the muzzle should be proportionate to the rest of the head and present a balanced appearance. The chin should be strong, firm and in line with the upper lip and nose. The head’s profile should be slightly concave, relatively smooth, and free of bumps or humps.

The ears are large, not flared, well-tufted, wide at the base, and taper to appear pointed. They are approximately one ear’s width apart at the base. The large, expressive, wide-set eyes have an opened oval shape and a slightly oblique setting with a slant toward the outer base of the ear. The neck is medium long.

Two facial types exist: the "sweet" look, which has a refined appearance, and the "feral" look, which has a wild, rugged aspect. Reportedly, the sweet look is more often seen in CFA, while the feral look is more often shown in TICA. According to some fanciers, in recent years the breed has begun achieving a more consistent type, which others maintain the two types are still distinctly different.

The size difference between the genders is substantial, but the females are still forces to be reckoned with—they firmly believe they're just as sizable as their male counterparts and tend to be slightly less easygoing, as most female cats are. Maine Coons are slow to develop and don’t reach full size and musculature until about four years of age.

The thick coat adds to the appearance of size. One of the Maine Coon’s main attractions is its semi-long, all-weather, water-resistant fur. Unlike the Persian’s, the Maine Coon’s coat doesn’t mat easily. Heavy and shaggy, the coat is shorter on the shoulders and longer on the tummy and britches, with a frontal ruff desirable. Tufts and furnishings decorate the ears. The texture is silky; the coat falls smoothly over the body. A Maine Coon with a coat that’s even overall or short is penalized.

While brown tabby and brown tabby with white are the most common colors and patterns, Maine Coons come in all color and pattern combinations with the exception of those indicating hybridization resulting in the colors chocolate, lavender, the pointed pattern, unpatterned agouti (Abyssinian type ticking), or these combinations with white. Eye color is not linked to coat color and can be shades of green, gold, green-gold, or copper. Blue eyes and odd eyes are permitted for white, bicolor, and van patterned cats. No outcrosses are allowed.

History

The Maine Coon (also known as the Maine Coon Cat), one of the large, economy-size breeds of the cat fancy, is as all-American as the Fourth of July. This breed carved out its place in the harsh New England countryside right alongside the first colonists.

No one knows where the Maine Coon came from and when the breed arrived in the New World, but theories and tall tales abound, some more believable than others. One story tells us that the Maine Coon’s ancestors belonged to Marie Antoinette and were smuggled out of France and taken to New England before the queen lost her head. Another story tells of a sea captain named Coon who sailed to New England accompanied by hearty longhaired buccaneer cats, thus the name Maine Coon. While both are intriguing stories, there doesn’t seem to be any real evidence to back up either tale.

Another account has longhaired cats arriving on Viking ships around the 11th century, long before the Pilgrims made their journey to the New World. The similarities in coat and conformation between the Norwegian Forest Cat and the Maine Coon give some small credence to this story. Much less credence can be given to the story that the Maine Coon is a cross between domestic cats and raccoons, a scientific impossibility.

Most likely, the ancestors of the Maine Coon arrived in North America with European colonists. Since North America has no indigenous wild cat species from which domestic cats could develop, cats must have arrived with journeying humans. Brought on board to protect the food stores from rodents, these working cats were hardy, rugged survivors who needed little from their human shipmates.

When the ships reached port, some of those intrepid longhairs came ashore to pledge allegiance to their new country. While these feline pioneers didn’t help build the New World, they helped keep the seed and grain free of rodents. Called "Shags" after their shaggy coats in those early years, they became an integral part of colonial life.

New England’s climate is severe, and those first years were tough on cats and people alike. Only the strongest, quickest and most adaptable cats survived. Through natural selection, the Maine Coon developed into a large, hardy cat with a dense, water-resistant coat and an adaptable temperament. Maine Coons became known for their excellent hunting abilities, nimble, hand-like paws, and hardy constitutions.

When cat shows became all the rage in the late 1800s, Maine Coons, then called Maine Cats, were right there to show off their beautiful thick coats and wide palette of colors and patterns. Maine Coons were shown in local cat shows as early as the 1860s, and were prized for their beauty, size, intelligence, and mellow temperaments. The first written reference to longhaired Maine Cats is found in the 1903 The Book of the Cat by Frances Simpson. A chapter on Maine Cats was written by American fancier Mrs. F.R. Pierce, who notes that in 1861 she owned a black and white Maine cat named Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines. In 1895, a female brown tabby Maine Cat named Cosey won Best in Show in the first American allbreed cat show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The breed did very well in shows in Boston and New York.

However, early in the 20th century the Maine Coon fell from grace when the fickle fancy turned its collective backs on the native breed in favor of the cats being imported from Europe. Persians began winning in the show ring, and Maine Coons, once the most numerous and popular breed, soon became a rarity except in New England. In fact, in the late 1950s the breed was declared extinct.

Happily for Maine Coon lovers, that report was in error. Due to the efforts of dedicated fanciers, the breed made a comeback. In 1953 the Central Maine Cat Club formed to promote the breed. Maine Coon shows were held in Maine, which rekindled interest in the breed. They also wrote one of the first breed standards and kept breeding records. Then, in 1968, breeders and fanciers formed the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association (MCBFA), an organization dedicated to preserving, protecting and promoting the breed. This association worked hard to bring the Maine Coon the respect it deserved.

Despite the ups and downs, the Maine Coon finally clawed its way into the spotlight. CFA accepted the Maine Coon for provisional status in 1975, and for championship status in 1976. By 1980, the breed was accepted by all North American cat registries in existence at that time. Today, the Maine Coon is one of the most popular longhaired breeds, second only to the Persian, and the third most popular breed of any hair length, according to CFA’s 2012 registration totals.

Notes

Fortunately, the Veterinary Cardiac Genetics Lab of Dr. Kathryn Meurs at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University, has developed a do-at-home genetic test for the HCM genetic mutation found in Maine Coons. The testing is available at the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the School of Veterinary Medicine, UC Davis, and at the Veterinary Cardiac Genetics Laboratory at the College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University. The test can identify not only which cats may develop the disease but also how severely, depending upon whether the cat inherited the gene responsible for the disease from one parent or both. This is a breakthrough since Maine Coons can now be tested for the disease before they are used in breeding programs. Owners can also have their cats tested so treatment can begin early, if necessary, although this should be discussed with your veterinarian.

While the Maine Coon is usually a healthy and hardy breed, a few diseases and conditions have been found in some lines. Feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common feline heart disease, is the most serious; the first noticeable symptom is often sudden death. While it’s possible for any cat, random-bred or purebred, to develop this disease, in pedigreed cats negative traits can become concentrated through breeding together even distantly related cats. Fortunately, the Veterinary Cardiac Genetics Lab of Dr. Kathryn Meurs at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University has developed a do-at-home genetic test for the HCM genetic mutation found in Maine Coons. The test can identify not only which cats may develop the disease but also how severely, depending upon whether the cat inherited the gene responsible for the disease from one parent or both. This is a breakthrough since Maine Coons can now be tested for the disease before they are used in breeding programs. Owners can also have their cats tested so treatment can begin early, if necessary, although this should be discussed with your veterinarian.

The Maine Coon is also prone to the inherited disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which causes the death of spinal cord neurons that activate skeletal muscles, resulting in muscle weakness, muscle atrophy, and a short life span. Governed by a recessive gene (Maine Coons must inherit the gene from both parents to have the disease), the disease has no cure. However, a genetic test to identify carriers exists through the Laboratory of Comparative Medical Genetics at Michigan State University-- a wonderful discovery because carriers can be identified and removed from breeding programs before they pass on the gene. The test is also available at the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at UC Davis. For more information visit the website at http://mmg.msu.edu/92.html.

Lastly, the inherited joint disorder feline hip dysplasia is known to exist in some Maine Coon lines. This is not a life threatening disorder, but it can cause extreme pain, stiffness, lameness, and dysfunction, and often crippling osteoarthritis as the cat ages. No cure or genetic test is available for this defect; the most common screening procedure is X-rays taken after the cat is two years old. However, if a Maine Coon shows signs of hip dysplasia, it’s been established that both parents must be affected or carriers. This has helped breeders minimize incidences of dysplasia in their catteries.

This is not to say your Maine Coon will develop all or any of these conditions and diseases. However, it’s wise to talk to your breeder about these and any other health concerns. Ask her if any SMA, HCM, or hip dysplasia affected cats are known in the pedigree or the cattery, and also ask if breeding cats are tested and screened. Buy from a breeder who provides a written health guarantee.

Did you know?

In 1985, the Maine Coon was named Maine’s state cat, bringing much-needed official recognition to the breed. Today, a handsome photo of the breed and a description of the state cat can be seen on the Maine.gov website.

Personality

Fortunately, the Maine Coon has a heart to match its size. These cats are jumbo-sized packages of loving devotion, kittens in big cat suits who are playful well into old age. Highly adaptable, Maine Coons may seem standoffish when first introduced to the household. They also tend to be shy around strangers—probably evidence of their jumbo-sized brains. Don’t be put off if they are shy at first or don’t take to you immediately. Breeders note that the initial adjustment period is actually a decision-making process. Maine Coons are deciding what to make of their new home and family. As soon as they make up their minds these tall strangers can be trusted. They form close bonds with the household and become completely devoted companions. They are true family members and participate in all family routines, whether it’s watching you surf the web, helping you fix dinner or make beds, or just providing home entertainment with their playful antics. Most want to be near you but not in your lap.

Maine Coons are fascinated by water, perhaps because of all the time their ancestors spent on sailing ships. They enjoy dabbling their feet into their water bowls and walking around the shower or bathtub before it’s dry. Fanciers say some will even plunge in for a swim or join their human companions in the shower. Keep the bathroom doors closed and toilet lids down. On occasion, Maine Coons try to empty the water out of the toilet with their paws, and then mop it up with rolls of toilet paper. This playful antic can get old fast.

The only thing small about Maine Coons, in fact, is their voices, and fanciers say it’s hard not to laugh when you hear those high-pitched squeaks coming from those big king-sized bodies. They also make a variety of other sounds; they have an interesting vocabulary of cheeps, chirps and trills as well as meows. They chortle when they are playing, trill when they are happy to see you and chatter when they spy a bird, squirrel or moth outside the window.

Breed Characteristics

Size:Large.
Coat Length(s):Long.
Body Type:Moderate.
Grooming Requirement:Twice a week.
Talkativeness:Quiet.
Activity Level:Average.
Affection:Very affectionate.
Usually Good With:Everyone.
Time Alone:4 to 8 hours per day.
Attention:Needs average attention.
Handling:Easy to handle.